The Long-run Effect of 9/11: Terrorism, Backlash, and Assimilation

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Dec 13, 2013

This article investigates whether the 9/11 attacks affected the assimilation rate of Muslims in the US. Terror attacks by Islamic groups are likely to induce a backlash against Muslims, thereby raising their costs of assimilation. We find that Muslim immigrants living in states with the sharpest increase in hate crimes also exhibit: greater chances of marrying within their own ethnic group; higher fertility; lower female labour force participation; and lower English proficiency. These findings shed light on the increasing use of terror and concurrent rise in social tensions surrounding Muslim immigrants in the West.

The terror attacks on the US in 2001 impacted the world in many ways. The shock and the loss of life were the most acute and immediate effects. Soon after, the economy was affected by the damage, disruption of air travel and increasing uncertainty in the security situation and world financial markets. Major military campaigns were subsequently launched in Afghanistan and Iraq, creating new tensions and alliances between countries. It is safe to say that the 9/11 attacks transformed the economic and diplomatic landscape on a global scale. In this article, we examine how the 9/11 attacks affected the Muslim community within the US.
In particular, we investigate the general idea that terror attacks by radical Islamic groups are likely to induce a backlash against the Muslim community as a whole, raising their costs of assimilation. Evidence for a backlash after 9/11 is supported by the data on hate crimes against Muslims, which went from 28 to 481 reported incidents from the year 2000 to 2001. A similar backlash against Muslims took place all across Europe (Åslund and Rooth, 2005; Hanes and Machin, 2012; Schüller, 2012). We empirically examine whether this backlash slowed the rate of assimilation by exploiting variation across states in the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Using individual-level data from the Census and American Community Surveys from 1990–2010, our results show that Muslim immigrants living in states which experienced the sharpest increase in hate crimes after 9/11 also exhibit:

  1. greater chances of ‘intra-marriage’ (marrying someone who also originates from a Muslim country);
  2. higher fertility;
  3. lower female labour force participation; and
  4. lower English proficiency.
Interestingly, the higher rate of intra-marriage is coming at the expense of marrying outside of the ethnic group, rather than a general increase in the marriage rate. All of these patterns are consistent with a less-assimilated outcome, since Muslim countries are characterised by very low rates of female labour force participation and high fertility rates compared to natives in the US.
Overall, our findings show that the 9/11 attacks induced a backlash which made the Muslim community in America more cohesive and traditional. In order to attribute a causal interpretation to our results, it is important to note that the state-level increase in hate crimes against Muslims after the 9/11 attacks was not correlated with the pre-existing state-level trend in any of the assimilation outcomes, or with the characteristics of Muslim immigrants living in the state prior to the 9/11 attacks. In addition, the results are robust to the inclusion or exclusion of a rich set of personal and state-level characteristics, including state-level hate crimes against blacks, Jews and homosexuals. These findings support our identifying assumption that variation in the extent of the backlash across states can be considered exogenous. Moreover, we conduct a placebo analysis by showing no effect of hate crimes on the marriage decisions of older Muslim immigrants, who had largely already made their marriage decisions before the 9/11 attacks, and by showing that no other immigrant group exhibited a slower rate of assimilation in response to hate crimes against Muslims. These findings lend even more support for a causal interpretation for our findings that the 9/11 attacks increased the ethnic identity of the Muslim community in the US.
There is no systematic empirical research on the question of whether the backlash against Muslim Americans after 9/11 affected their rate of assimilation in the US. The lack of research on this subject is surprising, given the increasing social and political tensions surrounding the assimilation of a large influx of Muslim immigrants to Western European countries and North America, and a concurrent increase in the use of large-scale terror attacks on Western cities. The most related literature has been conducted by historians, sociologists, journalists and Islamic scholars, who claim that Muslims and their communities in the US underwent substantial changes after the 9/11 attacks (Abdo, 2006; Barrett, 2008; Bakalian and Bozorgmehr, 2009).1 These studies argue that American Muslims, who felt under attack by the government, general public and the media in the aftermath of 9/11, sought refuge in their religion and community to withstand the backlash. According to these authors, the 9/11 attacks spurred a renewed sense of solidarity among Muslims and a religious revival in the face of widespread criticism of Islam.
However, the existing literature suffers from several shortcomings. The empirical evidence is based on a small number of selected interviews, rather than a systematic analysis of a large, representative sample of Muslims in the US. Individuals who agreed to be interviewed may not have opinions which reflect the average person's experience, and an individual's thoughts and opinions may not match their actions. In addition, the existing literature does not attempt to establish a causal connection between the backlash and assimilation and, therefore, cannot determine whether the changes in the Muslim community after 9/11 were due to the attacks themselves or were part of a pre-existing trend in their assimilation patterns.
Our article is the first systematic empirical analysis of how the Muslim community in the US. reacted to the 9/11 attacks. We present the first evidence that the backlash against Muslims slowed their rate of assimilation, as reflected by higher rates of intra-marriage and fertility, and lower rates of female labour force participation and English proficiency. In this manner, our findings suggest that terror attacks against Western targets may have a long-term political and socio-economic impact, by creating a more ethnically cohesive Muslim community in this generation and also the next.
The idea that terror groups instigate a backlash is not new in the theoretical literature on political conflict (Rosendorff and Sandler, 2004, 2010; Siqueira and Sandler, 2006; Bueno de Mesquita and Dickson, 2007; Baliga and Sjöström, 2012). However, this literature focuses on the backlash against the country or territory where the perpetrators reside. In the context of 9/11, this is consistent with the US attacking Afghanistan. Our findings raise the possibility that terror groups may also intentionally induce a backlash on persons of a similar ethnic origin in the targeted country, in order to decrease their rate of assimilation.
The remainder of the article is organised as follows. The next Section briefly surveys the literature on Muslim immigrants to the US, focusing on their experiences before and after the 9/11 attacks. Section 'The Data' presents the data on Muslim assimilation and hate crimes. Section 'Empirical Strategy' presents our empirical strategy, followed by our main results for ‘intra-marriage’ in Section 'The Effect of Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes on Intra-marriage Rates' and other assimilation outcomes in Section 'The Effect of Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes on other Assimilation Outcomes'. Section 'The Assimilation Outcomes of Other Immigrant Groups' examines other immigrant groups and Section 'Conclusions' concludes with a discussion of the broader implications of our results.
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